The University of Alabama

UA Matters: Successfully Navigating School Science Fairs

Julie Covin

Julie Covin

Science fair projects can be rewarding, challenging and, sometimes, even a bit stressful for young students and their parents. The University of Alabama’s Julie Covin offers a few tips that just might help your student bring home the blue-ribbon prize.

  • Start early! If you know there is a third-grade science fair, for example, start over the summer. A well-developed third-grade project can be expanded to become the middle-school project and, potentially, a high-school project or beyond.
  • Students should pick a topic that interests them and do some pre-research on their topic of choice. A short period researching the time necessary for study and the equipment and supplies needed may allow you to avoid last-minute difficulties.
  • The topic need not be cutting edge or high-tech. Think outside the traditional projects to the food sciences, behavioral sciences and mathematics.
  • While students may need parental supervision, avoid the instinct to become overly involved. Most science fairs, particularly at the upper grade levels, require the student to answer questions of the judges. Students are expected to have done their own research.
  • When a project is complete, spend some time practicing presentation skills, answering questions and talking about how the project might be continued or expanded. Identify questions students still have or new questions that arose during their project.
  • Make sure the presentation is neat and organized. Proof for typos prior to mounting your work. Do include your journal with the project board. Judges like to see what you were doing along the way.
  • Make certain your child follows whatever guidelines are provided. There may be restrictions on topics, display size, use of animals, chemical safety, etc.

Below is additional information on some Alabama science fair competitions.

Alabama Competitions:

Alabama Junior Academy of Science Paper Competition
http://www.alabamajunioracademyofscience.org/

In this competition, students submit an abstract and written paper of their research and prepare an oral presentation. Judges ask questions of students during the oral presentation. Regional competitions are held across the state with winners moving to a state competition. The state winner competes at the national competition. The competition is open to high-school students, grades 9-12. Scholarships are given.

Gorgas Scholarship Competition
www.gorgasscholar.org

This competition is open only to seniors. Students write a scientific paper about their research. Scholarships are given.

Science Olympiad Competition
www.soinc.org

Students compete in three divisions:  A K-6, B 7-9 and C 9-12.

Usually schools attend with a team of students, but there are policies in place for homeschooled students.

Covin is a physics specialist within UA’s Science in Motion program.

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